Writing Product Specifications, by Corinne Maddox, CCM, CFM
All construction documents include some type some type of product specifications. On small
simple projects, architects often simply list an acceptable a generic product type (such as a 2x2
ceiling tile). In this case, any manufacturer, tile design or acoustical quality level would be
allowable. Other specifications may name a specific or "proprietary" product which the contractor
is required to use. This generally results in a higher cost. Adding the statement "or equal" with a
proprietary specification allows the contractor to shop for the best price and delivery schedule, but
will require careful review to verify it is in fact an "equal" product. Performance specifications list
the desired results (such as the acoustical rating of the ceiling tile).
The larger the project, the more detailed the specification should be. Major projects include
lengthy specifications which typically include several approved manufacturers and product lines,
detailed product descriptions and performance criteria, a requirement to comply with a recognized
industry standard (such as ASTM's ceiling suspension system standard), a list of required
submittals (such as samples and shop drawings), manufacturer and installer qualifications,
material handling requirements, installation conditions, warranties and fabrication and installation
The architect usually develops this type specification by editing a software "master document".
Since larger projects often cover multiple products in a single specification, the documents need
to be carefully reviewed to make sure it is clear which product in intended for each location.
Specifications should also be reviewed to assure the appropriate quality is specified - an error in
the acoustical rating of ceiling tile or failure to select a rating of many options, for instance, could
result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra costs on a large project.